Heaven's gait

Loopy pacing and awful performances doom the hell-bound Heaven's Prisoners

Heaven's Prisoners, with a minimum of trick photography and emphasis on character development, almost feels like an apologia for Joanou's previous fiascos. Unfortunately, he doesn't demonstrate a capacity for extracting the emotional content of a film from its characters: The movie feels as if it were directed by a coffee machine, not a human being. The pacing is loopy enough that you want to slap the film editor awake and force him to cut the film to make it flow. What should be important scenes feel abbreviated, while others drag on interminably, including more barroom brawls than a 1977-era Burt Reynolds picture. There's a panicky air about the movie, which doesn't seem confidently directed, so you're easily annoyed while watching it; you feel like you're watching a magician struggling to keep the rabbit from popping out of the hat too soon.

In addition to innumerable errors in continuity--Baldwin will sweat like a gladiator, but his shirt is sopping wet one moment, bone-dry the next--Heaven's Prisoners suffers from a puzzling lack of tension. Like two of last year's biggest flops, Devil in a Blue Dress and Just Cause, the transparency of the alleged mystery seems not shocking and complex, but merely tawdry and lurid, and--worse yet--sloppy. Heaven's Prisoners is a thriller for those who are easily scared and don't like to be challenged by films. I'm sure there are people like that out there, and they deserve this.

Heaven's Prisoners. Savoy Pictures. Alec Baldwin, Kelly Lynch, Teri Hatcher, Mary Stuart Masterson, Eric Roberts. Written by Harley Peyton and Scott Frank. Directed by Phil Joanou. Opens May 10.

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